All systems…errr…can we go??

March 24, 2009 9:19pm

By Sebastian–Resolute Bay/Eureka

Our six AM weather report comes in negative. Our team on the ice
reports low vis and we are back to bed until an eight AM update. At
nine thirty Steve at Ken Borek calls asking if we are ready to go and
to meet by the Ken Borek cargo area! Like two bats out of purgatory,
Keith and I are on the go. Reality sets in on the way, and we both
contemplate our impending experience. Wearing the big, white, cold
weather Napapijri outfit, I feel like an astronaut on the way to the
moon. Thank you Ale, Martino and Massimiliano at Napa in Milan for
getting these outfits customized in record time. They are warm, feel
great for the conditions and got a universal envious nod from the other
expedition teams here. Our friends at the South Camp Inn give us solemn
blessings, and we ride in silence to the airport. Outside the sun is
bright and the air crisp. Troy, our pilot, greets us by the hangar.
Troy had flown me off Devon Island this summer, after my experience
with the bear. He is a good man, and an ace pilot. Soon, the engines of
the Twin Otter roar on the runway, and the bird lifts into the great
white vastness that surrounds us. We are off and the journey ahead
finally sets in.

Two and a half hours and we land in Eureka for refueling. Stepping
out of the plane, the minus 43C temp is a stern reminder of what lies
ahead! A slight breeze, and that air stings like a fist of needles. A
seam on the fuel pump malfunctions and Keith and I, both giddy and
cold, run around the runway to keep warm. Eureka is a refueling station
and an outpost with a few barracks and a hotel catered to Arctic
researchers. An hour later, we board the plane. The plane begins
shaking as the engines roar. And roar. And roar. From the tarmack we
are ninety minute to our drop on the ice, at N85 latitude! “This is
it”, I hear myself mutter. When suddenly… the props relente, the
engine shuts down and the bird slumps back to its rest position:
weather has closed in on the ice and vis is no good again! We will sit
for a couple of hours and assess what to do next. The one thing you
can’t be mad at is weather, as Keith reminds me. I had silently thought
this to be relatively too good to be true.

We drive to the hotel, and soon accept that today will not be the day.

Out of the cold, dinner is served. There is nothing quite like
being in the thick of it to hear the nuances of how the ice up here is
changing. At our table, much of the talk is about how multi year ice
has become fleeting, systematically being replaced by new ice. The
pilots’ interest in the topic relates to putting down on the ice, since
thickness and rubble conditions are as relevant to them as visibility
and weather to land there. This confirms the scientific data I know all
too well, but it is interesting and refreshing to hear their point of
view. In fact, Arctic multi year ice (ice that is ten years old or
more) went from 80% twenty year ago to 3% today. New ice accounts for
the fragile conditions of the sea ice, and how rapidly the Arctic
summer ice can simply break entirely. It also factors why in a short
window of time, explorers will likely no longer have a window to reach
the pole as we are attempting to…

We will spend the night here tonight, and pray for our marching
orders in the morning. Next update is at 7AM. Hopefully, Sedna–the
Inuit goddess of the ice–will be on our side. We’d like to go now!

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